Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
This is modified version of a speech by me in St. Paul Church in Endicott, NY.
“No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.” – so said Mark Twain. Did you know that the Gettysburg address was only two minutes long? Clearing the name of Islam in this day and age will, however, require more than 2 minutes, but I will be brief.
Abraham had two sons Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac’s progeny led to Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, may peace be on all of them, and have come to represent Judaism and Christianity and Ishmael through Muhammad, may peace be on him, has come to represent the Muslims.
We are a family and brothers and sisters and in this spirit we come together today.
Muhammad did not bring a new faith, but established his mission in continuation of the Abrahamic faiths. The first several chapters of the holy Quran make a case for Islam in the context and recognition of Judaism and Christianity. The name of Jesus appears more often in the holy Quran than of Muhammad himself and a chapter out of 114 is named after mother Mary and gives a detailed account of the birth of Jesus. The Quran in chapter 67 describes mother Mary as an excellent role model for both Muslim men and women laying to rest the question whether there is gender equality in Islam or not.
Jesus was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
I can easily imagine and demonstrate Muhammad saying similar words as Jesus and the Quran echoing the message of compassion and love of the Gospels. In fact, I have written two articles, which have been well received in the social media, especially in Twitter, where I have 42,000 followers, including several members of parliament in Europe and professors of religion and philosophy of different universities. These articles are titled: Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran and Forty Hadiths or Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad about Compassionate Living.
I have also written about the Bible: A Message of Compassion and Love from the Holy Bible.
It is said that one third of the Quran is about Monotheism.
Rev. Elwood Morris Wherry (1843- 1927) was an American Presbyterian missionary to India, who wrote a number of books and was a famous Christian apologist and Orientalist in his time. He was generally critical of Islam, but, he wrote acknowledging the beauty of Unity of God in Islam:
A few passages, like the oases in the deserts of Arabia, stand out as truly beautiful both in their setting and in their thought. Take the first chapter, the Fatihat:
‘In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds! The compassionate, the merciful! King on the Day of Judgment! Thee do we worship, and to thee do we cry for help! Guide then us in the right way! The path of those to whom thou art gracious! Not of those with whom thou art angered, nor of those who go astray.’
The celebrated throne verse in Chap. II., 255, is as follows: ‘God! there is no God but he; the living, the self-subsisting: neither slumber nor sleep seizeth him; to him belongeth whatsoever is in heaven and on earth. Who is he that can intercede with him, but through his good pleasure? He knoweth that which is past, and that which is to come unto them, and they shall not comprehend anything of his knowledge, but so far as he pleaseth. His throne is extended over heaven and earth, and the preservation of both is no burden unto him. He is high, the Mighty.’
The question is often asked why a book of such singular composition should hold such sway over the millions of the Moslem world. In reply two reasons may be given: first, the beautiful rhythm, and often sweet cadences of the original language, which like some enchanting song hold multitudes with rapt attention who understand scarcely a word they hear; secondly, there is a vast amount of truth contained in the book, especially the truth of the divine unity and of man’s dependence upon God, as seen in the throne verse just now quoted.
The very next verse of the holy Quran calls for religious freedom saying that there should be no compulsion in the holy Quran, a short Arabic segment, which almost every well informed Muslim knows by heart, “La Ikraha feed Deen.” When the defensive war was allowed in Islam the Quranic verse revealed at that time said that defensive war is prescribed to safeguard the security of the Temples, Churches, Synagogues and Mosques in that order. In other words religious freedom of every human being.
So, you may ask if Islam is all these good things where do all those Muslim terrorists blowing themselves up almost every other day somewhere in the world come from?
ISIS has created a terrible state of torture and oppression and even instituted sexual slavery based on their primitive and in my opinion wrong understanding of Islam.
Response often by the moderate Muslims is that they are a small gang of thugs of about 20,000 to 30,000 militants, they are not Islamic or that ISIS doesn’t represent Islam. It is a good sound bite and a partial answer, but is not a complete and a satisfying answer.
My job for the next few minutes is to rather than giving you platitudes and some positive quotes from the Quran or the Hadith about peaceful message of Islam, which you can read in the articles quoted above, to try to give you a more satisfying answer. I will be drawing parallels between the Quran, US constitution and the Bible and between the Muslims and some Christians, to demystify terrorism and fundamentalism and give you some insight into exegesis of the sacred texts.
The ending of the Gospel of Mark is used by some as a basis for handling snakes: “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will . . . pick up snakes with their hands.” Churches that practice snake handling have special services in which people actually handle venomous snakes, supposedly giving evidence that the church members are true believers who are empowered and protected by God.
I read secularism in the holy Quran and so do the 88% of the 80 million Turkish people, according to a recent international Pew Research Center poll, but a large majority of the people in Pakistan and Afghanistan or at least the religious scholars they hold in high esteem, seem to read Shariah law in the holy Quran.
The Quran is a book not an audio book; it does not speak. Let me repeat, it does not speak. We as readers put different meanings into it.
Sabbath: Jewish or Christian?
We are all very familiar with the Ten Commandments and these are mentioned at least twice in the Old Testament.
The fourth commandment among the Ten Commandments is: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Many Jews strictly observe the Sabbath, especially within Orthodox Judaism. They refrain from, for example, turning electricity on or off and much more. Jesus reinterpreted the fourth Commandment with a one liner, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
In so doing he brought human compassion and human rights for our times, front and center and dramatically reinterpreted the Old Testament.
Some Amish and Mennonites forbid photography of their people, and their objection is based on the second commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Obviously a very large majority of the Christians do not read the second Commandment in that way.
Now, let me draw some parallels from the US constitution to demonstrate possible ways of reading and interpreting the scriptures.
There’s a vigorous debate in the United States about the nature of our constitution. Liberals tend to argue that the constitution is a living document, while conservatives, like the late Justice Scalia, claim our constitution is “dead, dead, dead.”
If the authors of the constitution were alive today – having lived through 239+ years of U.S. history – do we really think they would ask their 1787 selves how to interpret the constitution?
In the liberal understanding, under this view, for example, constitutional requirements of “equal rights” should be read with regard to current standards of equality, and not those of decades or centuries ago, because the alternative would be unacceptable, to the African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and most Caucasians.
One application of the living Constitution framework is seen in the Supreme Court’s reference to “evolving standards of decency” under the Eighth Amendment. This was seen in the 1958 Supreme Court case of Trop v. Dulles. The decision read:
The words of the Eighth Amendment are not precise, and that their scope is not static. The Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.
While the Court was referring to cruel and unusual punishment, the underlying conception – namely, that the Constitution is written in broad terms, and that the Court’s interpretation of those terms should reflect current societal conditions – is the heart of the “living Constitution” doctrine.
If we read the scriptures like a ‘living document’ we are saved from so many misinterpretations that lead to extremism, terrorism, formation of cults and insistence on Shariah Law among the Muslims or teaching of creationism in science classes, among the Evangelical Christians.
A large majority of the Evangelical Christians do not believe in the biological evolution because of the literal reading of Genesis. It is self evident to the majority well versed in biological sciences that we have to reinterpret Genesis and see it in new light given to us by Charles Darwin and 150 years of research into biology and other sciences since his time.
No wonder Genesis will need to be reinterpreted in the context of scientific developments.
Jesus had taken seven demons out of Mary Magdalene according to the Bible and you all know it. This is how they spoke of psychiatric and neurological diseases in that era.
I have been the Director of the Sleep Lab at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital, in Binghamton NY, for the last 17 years. I know something about the workings of our brains and minds, if I start believing in demons, the whole understanding of psychology and neurology will fall flat on its back.
On the basis of various biblical texts, including Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:10, and Acts 15:28,29, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to take any blood transfusions or blood products even in life threatening situations. All the other Christians obviously read those same verses with a different meaning.
The holy Quran revealed in the seventh century
In the seventh century when the Quran was revealed, there was no Geneva Convention, no Universal Declaration of Human Rights and no prisons. After warfare, often men of the defeated armies were taken as slaves and women as concubines. The Quran gave a teaching of defensive and just war in this context, which would have a new and dramatic understanding of human rights in the context of the 21st century. The moderate Muslims see the seeds of Geneva Convention and other human rights in these writings and unfortunately, ISIS by treating the Quran as a dead document, “dead, dead and dead,” have created the horrors of their so called caliphate, totalitarian state and sexual slavery.
But, it is not the fault of the Quran, like the snake handlers, the exorcists and people dying because of lack of transfusions, are not the fault of the Bible.
Enlightened reading of the scriptures gives us wisdom and insight, but myopic reading by the extremists gives them their extremism.
Muslim youth, everywhere in the world, are constantly learning from the Western media. Take the example of Pokémon cards, fashion and Hollywood films, to name a few.
If the media teaches them that Islam is violent, they either learn that indeed it is or they decide that Islam is not violent and the media is biased or at worst “Fake News,” both are not desirable ends.
One would hope that the Western media will strengthen the hands of the moderate Muslims, like me and our community the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, to teach the whole world that Islam stands for peace, universal brotherhood, women rights, human rights, racial equality and secularism.
Thank you for listening so patiently and attentively.
1. Islam and Christianity in India and the Far East By Elwood Morris Wherry. Fleming H Revell Company, 1907. Page 25-26.
2. Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958).
3. Balkin, Jack. Alive and Kicking: Why no one truly believes in a dead Constitution. August 29, 2005 http://www.slate.com/id/2125226/ Retrieved 4/20/07 (“Original meaning does not mean original expected application. For example, the Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishments. But the application of the concepts of “cruel and unusual” must be that of our own day, not 1791.”)